My least favorite part of writing: Naming characters

I began the new year right (write?) by starting work on a new full-length play (as included in my 2017 goals). I already have some scene notes, character notes, research notes, and even a few pages of dialogue. What I don’t have is names for my characters. Naming characters is my least favorite part about writing.

Naming characters is like naming children. There is a lot of pressure to find the right names. Actually, it’s harder because my play already has four characters but I only have two children. To be honest, I didn’t even name my children. I let my husband come up with the names, and I only asked for veto power (which I didn’t need to use). Maybe I should make my husband name my fictional spawn too.

Naming characters gets harder as I get older because I know more people meaning that more names have already been “taken.” It feels awkward to have a character with the same name as someone I know or someone’s kid, particularly if that character has some unflattering attributes or is even an outright bad person.

The opposite happens too. Sometimes a good name brings up bad personal memories because of someone who had that name in real life.

Of course, there is always the option of using obscure names, but giving a character a obscure name adds a dimension to the character that I don’t necessarily want. Suddenly this is a “person who grew up with an obscure name.” Similarly, a strongly ethnic name may also be interpreted in ways I don’t intend.

Even if I think of a name that isn’t overly burdened with a connection to someone in real life and isn’t too obscure and isn’t tied strongly to a specific ethnicity, there is the question of whether the name fits the character. Although I have some idea of who these characters are at this point they may change over time. Would the name still fit?

There is the option not to name the characters until later, which is what I’m working with right now: mother, daughter, husband, but it makes the characters feel less real. They feel generic. I don’t intend for it to be the sort of play in which the characters are unnamed, although I’ve done that sometimes.

To add to the challenge, because I am writing a play these will be names that people will say out loud. They need to sound good not just look good on the page. If a name is too long it will likely require a nickname just as long names often do in real life, but that means I need to come up with a nickname too! Two names for one character! It’s hard enough coming up with one!

I hate coming up for names for my characters, but hey, you seem pretty smart. (I mean, you are reading my blog and everything). Maybe you have some good character name ideas. Here are the character descriptions (subject to change) for your inspiration:

  • Woman, 40 years old, computer science professor, introvert, loves knowledge
  • Man, 35 years old, husband of woman above, very laid back
  • Girl, 13 years old, daughter of man and woman above but takes after her mother
  • Man, 45 years old, research scientist, genius, inventor, business man

All of the above need at least first names. The woman and the research scientists will probably need last names as well. Share you ideas in the comments below, on Twitter, or Facebook. Sorry, no compensation will be given for name ideas even if I use them, but I’ll try to remember to mention you in my Pulitzer acceptance speech.

RELATED POST: Writer’s block versus writer’s ennui

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